Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Graduates urged to meet an uncertain future
with optimism and commitment

Google co-founder Larry Page, a U-M alumnus whose groundbreaking search engine has become synonymous with the Internet, encouraged the graduating class of 2009 to confront these uncertain times because “the best people want to work on the big challenges.”

President Mary Sue Coleman acknowledged graduates face uncertain times, but said she was confident they would meet the challenge. (All photos by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)
Commencement speaker and Google co-founder Larry Page holds an iron club his grandfather used during the sit-down strikes of the 1930s at the Flint auto plant where he worked.

Graduates file into Michigan Stadium, where commencement took place Saturday. The ceremony returned to the Big House after temporarily moving to the Diag last year.


“Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting,” said Page, who received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree as the commencement speaker Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Under the sunny skies of a breezy Michigan spring day, about 4,000 graduates were sent off to their futures from the Big House, to which commencement returned after temporarily moving to the Diag last year. An estimated crowd of 32,500 cheered them on.

“You will need to be creative. You will need to be flexible,” President Mary Sue Coleman told the cap-and-gowned throng. “Be open-minded about the possibilities before you, commit yourself to your responsibilities, and demonstrate just how valuable you are.”

Stressing the value of a U-M diploma, Coleman invoked the accomplishments of Depression-era Michigan graduates — including Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller and the late President Gerald Ford — who “joined a society far more troubled than today’s world” but “were not discouraged by temporary detours in their path to success.”

Nearly all those speaking referred to the difficult economic times that the Class of 2009 will face, but they also encouraged graduates not to lose sight of the power of optimism as they make their marks on the world.

“Seize the time. Seize the change. Make us better. Make us proud of you,” said Terrence McDonald, dean of LSA.

LSA graduate George Dong, who traveled 7,000 miles to attend Michigan from Fuzhou, China, echoed that spirit in his speech on behalf of the students.

“It is the Michigan experience that has taught us to dream, that yes we can, and yes, we will change the world,” said Dong, who said he intends to teach English in Chicago.

The spring Class of 2009, including graduates and undergraduates, consists of 8,150, according to the Office of the Registrar.

In her remarks, Provost Teresa Sullivan spoke of how the class has been prepared to do great things.

“The world in which you will live and work is sure to be quite different from the world in which you were born,” Sullivan said. “But we are confident that the habits of mind you have developed here will stand you in good stead in meeting the challenges of the future.”

In his speech, Page described a dream that came to him at age 23. He said he awoke, sensed the dream’s significance and scribbled down its details before he forgot them.

That dream led to a project that was a precursor to Google, which he and co-founder Sergey Brin created much later after maxing out three credit cards to buy the equipment needed.

“When a really great dream shows up, grab it,” Page said. “Get a little crazy, follow your creativity and be ambitious about it.”

Page, a native of East Lansing, received his bachelor’s degree in engineering with a concentration in computer engineering from U-M in 1995. He is the son of one of U-M’s earliest computer science graduates.

Page spoke warmly of his father, and described how he was devastated when his dad died of complications from childhood polio shortly after Page had moved to Stanford to pursue his graduate studies.

He pointed out that the world is on the verge of eliminating the disease. “Let’s get it eradicated soon,” he said. “Perhaps one of you will do that.”

He also acknowledged other family members who had returned to Ann Arbor with him, and reminded the graduates in the crowd to never forget those who helped put them through U-M.

“Please keep them close,” he said. “They are what really matters in life.”